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Feb 9, 2018 4:42 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sag Harbor's Wharf Shop Looks Back On A Half Century

Nada Barry, co-owner of The Wharf Shop, with some educational children's books for sale in her shop. JON WINKLER
Feb 16, 2018 10:01 AM

It’s 11:15 a.m. on a Saturday, a relatively quiet morning in Sag Harbor Village. Nevertheless, Nada Barry is busy at the Wharf Shop checking on displays and helping customers.The 87-year-old greets her customers with a friendly “hello” and will guide them through the store tucked into Main Street. While Sag Harbor’s popular shopping thoroughfare is packed with a variety of stores for adults, Ms. Barry packs the Wharf Shop mostly with stuff for kids: books, toy trains, dolls, action figures and puzzles line the store front to back.

No matter how much the community and its residents have changed, Ms. Barry has kept the Wharf Shop open with the same family-friendly atmosphere, and even a few of the same retail items, for 50 years.

Ms. Barry currently co-owns the Wharf Shop with her daughter, Gwen Waddington. Born in London, Ms. Barry first came to the United States in the summer of 1939. Though she and her family lived in New York City at first, she said she had spent her summers in Sag Harbor for over 20 years before officially moving there in 1963.

She spent the 1960s with her now ex-husband, Bob Barry, who built and owned Baron’s Cove Marina. While her husband was overseeing the boats going in and out of the harbor, Ms. Barry had an idea.

“On the rainy days at that marina, there were children with nothing to do,” Ms. Barry said on a recent day in her present office at the back of the Wharf Shop. “There was room in the office to put some toys out to sell. So I gave it a shot to see if they’d sell. Subsequently, because there weren’t any good toys whatsoever in Sag Harbor but plastic things, I decided to try a store with a partner.”

After giving the harbor kids some entertainment by the sea, Ms. Barry and her then-business partner, Renee Norman, opened the Wharf Shop in 1968. The building where the shop currently sits at 69 Main Street was also owned by Mr. Barry, and before the Wharf Shop came into existence, Ms. Barry said, her mother-in-law, Beth Barry, owned and operated a dry goods store that occupied the whole front of the building.

Ms. Barry and Ms. Norman had put up a partition, splitting the building so that the Wharf Shop could open on one side of the building, where the clothing store Flashbacks currently sits, and the dry goods store remained in its original space. After Ms. Barry’s mother-in-law died in the 1970s, the Wharf Shop took over the entire building for some time.

Regardless of location, Ms. Barry said that the one thing about the Wharf Shop that stands out is the service it offers its customers.

“We always gift-wrap, we’ve always interacted with the children and welcomed them when they came in the door, followed up to see if they had any questions,” Ms. Barry said.

“We ask our staff to greet everyone that comes in the door just so the customer knows that they’re welcome here,” Ms. Waddington said.

The staff of The Wharf Shop also present themselves in a minor form of uniform: colored aprons.

“We started wearing aprons because we wanted something to identify who were the sales staff, especially the young kids who were working for us,” Ms. Waddington said. “We tried name tags but some of our employees were uncomfortable wearing them. Now we are addicted to the pockets for pens and notes.”

While Ms. Barry and her daughter keep up with what the best new toys are for kids every year, Ms. Waddington said that they try to showcase merchandise with educational and creative value. Along with Playmobil toy sets, customizable dollhouses and LEGO sets, the Wharf Shop also offers brain teasers like Kanoodle, a game that asks users to finish a two- or three-dimensional puzzle using a certain number of colored pieces. There’s also Knitting Nancy, a wooden doll that can be used to weave wool through it for knitting projects, something Ms. Barry said has been sold in the store for all 50 of its years.

“We’re trying to let them know that there are alternatives to the iPad,” Ms. Waddington said.

Even when the kids of Sag Harbor grew out of wanting toys, the Wharf Shop still provided many teenagers with their first jobs at the shop. Ms. Waddington described the experience as a “launching pad” for kids to learn how to present themselves when looking for a job and working on their own.

“These are things that some people when they’re 14 have not had that experience before,” Ms. Waddington said. “And they’ve come back and thanked us for it.”

Someone who’s grateful for that lesson is Dede O’Connell, who has worked for the shop off and on for the last 40 years after her mother, Denise Schramm, “dragged” her into the shop to keep her from “goofing off” in the summer. Ms. O’Connell said on Friday that even if people have never been to the shop before, it stands out to them somehow.

Ms. Barry also noted the pieces of adult merchandise available in the store, including small jewelry and books on the history of Sag Harbor. She said that if she had some more space, she’d like to be able to sell tricycles, small bicycles and similar pieces of equipment.

“We’ve seen people park their cars across the street from us and just gravitate to the Wharf Shop,” Ms. O’Connell said. “We don’t just sell them something, we sell them on an experience. We’ve even had employees who worked here 50 years ago bring in their children and their grandchildren.”

“I’ve been thanked and thanked for teaching them so much,” Ms . Barry said. “It makes me feel fantastic.”

“We’re not just about commerce, we’re about being a member of this community,” Ms. Waddington said.

The shop will officially celebrate its golden anniversary on April 14.

“For me, the best memories are the satisfaction of having children and customers in the store: the students we’ve had coming back and thanking me, the customers saying that this was their favorite store, and teachers who’ve come in to supplement their classrooms because they appreciate our selection,” Ms. Barry said just before stepping back out to the floor to help another customer.

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what a beautiful story!
By mtk4ever (4), montauk on Feb 12, 18 7:49 AM